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UK tests self-driving Martian robots

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Staff Writer | Wednesday January 2, 2019 4:29AM ET
Catherine Mealing-Jones
Britain   Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency

Due to the time taken for commands to travel to Mars (eight minutes each way), hand guided robots are limited to travelling only a few dozen metres a day.


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New software developed in the UK will change this, enabling future Mars rovers to make their own decisions about where to go and how to get there, driving up to a kilometre per day so delivering more scientific returns per mission.

The UK is a world leader in robotics and the government is working with business and academia to encourage further investments in the technology as part of the modern Industrial Strategy.

Companies and universities from around the UK including Airbus Defence & Space, Thales Alenia Space, Scisys, King’s College London, the University of Strathclyde, and GMV-UK participated in the software testing at Ibn Battuta Test Centre in Morocco in December.

Over the course of a month the team, consisting of engineers from companies all across Europe was co-ordinated by representatives from the UK Space Agency as well as the German, French, Spanish, Italian and European Space Agencies (ESA). They tested a variety of new technologies, including data fusion systems, a plug-and-play sensor suite and an open-source operating system for robotic control.

Airbus in Stevenage is the prime contractor for the new ESA Exomars rover, due to land on Mars in 2020. Following a public competition last year, the UK Space Agency will announce the name of the new UK-built rover this spring.

The UK Space Agency is the second largest European contributor to ExoMars, having invested €287 million in the mission and £14 million on the instruments. This, in addition to successful negotiations with ESA, secured key mission contracts for the UK space sector.

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, said: Mars is a very difficult planet to land safely on, so it’s essential to maximise the discoveries from each successful touchdown.

"New autonomous robot technology like this will help to further unlock Mars’ mysteries and I’m delighted that the UK is a key player in this cutting-edge field."

 

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